DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My husband had ankylosing spondylitis most of his adult life. He died last year at age 56. The cause of death was heart disease, and his doctor said it was related to the ankylosing spondylitis. How? I don’t think he knew he had heart disease. Our son, age 24, complains of a sore back. Should he be examined for this? – L.C.

Ankylosing (AN-kuh-LOW-sing) spondylitis (SPAWN-duh-LITE-is) is a special kind of back arthritis. It begins at a young age, in the early 20s, and strikes three times more men than women. Its first symptoms are low-back pain with back stiffness upon wakening in the morning. Sometimes the pain begins as buttock pain that alternates between the right and left sides.

The arthritis marches up the spine. In time, a person’s spine becomes quite rigid, and he or she finds it impossible to turn the neck.

This illness affects more than the spine. Shoulders can become arthritic. Eye inflammation is often part of the picture. And the aorta, the large artery arising from the heart, becomes inflamed in about 1 percent of these patients. The inflammation can give rise to a leaky aortic heart valve. That probably was the heart disease your husband had.

Genes play a role in the onset of ankylosing spondylitis. Your son should be examined for any signs of the illness. Not every child of every parent who has the condition will come down with it, but the earlier it is caught, the sooner steps can be taken to keep the spine mobile. The first step is physical therapy to preserve spinal movement.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I have a corn between my third and fourth toes. What caused it? How do I go about getting rid of it? – L.M.

Corns are a sign of friction. Something is rubbing against the skin, and a corn is a defense to preserve the skin. In your case, the two toes rub against each other. Quite often, that’s because shoes are too tight.

To get rid of the corn, soak your foot in warm water for 20 minutes. That will soften it. Then with a pumice stone (you can get one in any drugstores, or you can get something equivalent to it), rub the corn until you reach normal skin. This takes more than one session.

If you cannot find the source of friction, buy cushions that you insert between the toes to prevent another corn from forming.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Forty years ago, when he was 25, my brother had half his stomach removed because it was bleeding so badly. The doctors couldn’t stop the bleeding any other way.

My brother now drinks more than a pint of whiskey every day. He says no doctor, then or now, ever told him he couldn’t. Should someone like him be drinking this much alcohol? – R.C.

No one should drink that much alcohol.

Alcohol irritates the stomach lining and can bring on bleeding. Maybe no one told him not to drink, but common sense should deliver the message.

Whether your brother realizes it or not, he is an alcoholic. He should not only consider his stomach, he should think about what he’s doing to his liver and to the rest of his body.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: A psychiatrist recently diagnosed my 20-year-old granddaughter with dysthymia. Can you explain what it is? – B.L.

Dysthymia is sadness that lingers for no good reason. It’s not quite the depths of dejection that qualifies as a major depression, but it is a state of a down mood that affects a person’s life and work. Dysthymic people have little energy, have poor appetites, are unable to sleep or sleep excessively and are consumed with pessimism.

With direction from a mental health professional and perhaps with medicines to right any imbalance of brain chemistry, most dysthymics can obtain relief.

Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Readers may also order health newsletters from

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